Keith Earls and Tip Tackle Tombola

Given it was less than a week after the tragic passing of Munster legend Anthony Foley, the Munster, Glasgow game was always going to be one full of emotion. Would the Munster players be able to focus on the game or would this be a fixture that was scheduled too soon after the events of the last week?

It was perhaps understandable then, that a momentary lack of control from Keith Earls provided the main talking point of the first half, when he was awarded a red card for a tip tackle.

The Munster centre does have a bit of form for dangerous tip tackles and has been lucky in the past not to be shown a red card for lifting the ball carrier through 90 degrees and not returning him safely to the ground.

Here are two examples from the 6 Nations fixture against Wales, earlier this season:



It’s a bit of a rugby cliche, but if you lift a player through 90 degrees and they don’t come down safely, you will always run the risk of a red card.


Earl tackle against Glasgow

In the Champions Cup fixture against Glasgow Earls once again picks and lifts the player. Here are the two angles of the tackle.


The laws on this have been clarified and provide some guidance around the difference between a red and a yellow card. Here they are:

Law 10.4(j) reads: Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player’s feet are still off the ground such that the player’s head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play.

A directive was issued to all Unions and Match Officials in 2009 emphasising World Rugby’s zero-tolerance stance towards dangerous tackles and reiterating the following instructions for referees:

– The player is lifted and then forced or ‘speared’ into the ground (red card offence)

– The lifted player is dropped to the ground from a height with no regard to the player’s safety (red card offence)

– For all other types of dangerous lifting tackles a yellow card or penalty may be considered sufficient

Given the Glasgow player is picked up, tiled through 90 degrees and then comes down on his head or upper shoulders a red card was always likely to be shown.


Matt Toomua tackle

There is an interesting to point to note about the Keith Earls tackle when we compare it to another tip tackle – Leicester centre Matt Toomua’s against Glasgow in last week’s Champions Cup match.

The Australian centre picks and lifts the Glasgow player and as the still shows below he comes down to earth from a steep angle.


Toomua was given a yellow card because Finn Russell has the sense to put his hand to the ground meaning it isn’t his upper body, head or neck that comes in to contact with the ground first.

The law guidelines are wrong

If we now compare the Earls and Toomua tackles we see that the defender does virtually the same action, the only difference being that Finn Russell puts his hand out to prevent himself landing on his upper body while the Glasgow player in the Earls tackle doesn’t.

The guidelines are wrong because they are based on the outcome and not the act itself.

Neither Toomua nor Earls knew what the outcome would be when they lifted up the attackers and yet they have received different sanctions (Toomua only received a yellow). This is plainly illogical and doesn’t help to stamp out dangerous tackles.


What’s the solution?

The solution is simple. Players are not allowed to lift a player and tilt them through 90 degrees in the tackle. Any tackle that meets these two criteria is an automatic red card.

This practice didn’t used to be prevalent in rugby and there is no need for it to become accepted practice. As long as the boundaries are know and clear, then we shouldn’t have the ambiguity we have today.


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